Combustible Celluloid
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With: Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, Jason Sudeikis, Udo Keir, Neil Patrick Harris, Laura Dern, Brigitte Lundy-Paine, Neil Patrick Harris, Joaquim de Almeida, Margo Martindale
Written by: Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor
Directed by: Alexander Payne
MPAA Rating: R for language including sexual references, some graphic nudity and drug use
Running Time: 135
Date: 12/22/2017

Downsizing (2017)

2 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Downsizing is a puzzling anomaly in filmmaker Alexander Payne's oeuvre, a bizarre misfire of preposterous proportions. It goes so far off the rails that there isn't even any train of thought left.

It seems to have at least the beginnings of an idea, however. A Norwegian scientist invents a method for shrinking humans down to a height of about 5 inches, and proposes it as a means for saving the earth.

In essence, smaller humans use fewer resources and generate far less trash. As a bonus, money goes much further. A normal salary in the big-sized world equates to a luxury retirement in world of little people, called Leisure Land Estates.

Physical therapist Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) can barely make ends meet in his boring job, and after a long opening setup that takes place over several years, and after meeting an old high school pal (Jason Sudeikis) that has "downsized," Paul and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) decide to take the plunge.

The movie spells out the procedure in agonizing detail, including the need to pull out all a person's teeth. Paul goes through with it and, when he awakens, is distraught to learn that Audrey has balked and decided to remain full-sized.

She disappears from the movie, never to be seen again.

Paul sulks and plods through small life for a while until he meets his slick, confident playboy neighbor Dusan Mirkovic (Christoph Waltz).

He parties with Dusan for a long time before he meets Dusan's cleaning lady, Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), an illegal Vietnamese immigrant who survived a harrowing journey to Leisure Land inside a TV box.

He agrees to help fix her artificial leg and becomes attached to her. Then they meet the Norwegian scientists, and then they learn that the world is coming to an end, etc.

Downsizing is so brutally long, and takes so many right-angle doglegs, that it's difficult to imagine that any old, earlier screenplay drafts were ever thrown out; things just kept being tacked on. At least an hour of the film feels like excess flab.

It clearly wants to be a preachy parable about how we're all destroying the planet. Even though it purports to be a comedy and a science-fiction story — genres that normally provide excellent ways to subtly hide messages — Downsizing delivers its themes in the most front-loaded, painfully obvious way.

It's baffling. Director Payne is usually extremely reliable, having also given us the very fine, based-in-reality comedy-dramas About Schmidt, Sideways, and Nebraska, films that do not resemble Downsizing in the slightest.

Co-written by his old cohort Jim Taylor, the new movie is closer to the pair's earlier black comedies Citizen Ruth and Election, but still so far away from their sharp, wicked wit.

No, it most closely resembles Payne's least successful feature so far, The Descendants, a movie that started trying to deal with grief and ended up being a lesson about land ownership. It still had its good parts, however.

Downsizing offers no such mix; it's more like watching a full-sized idea slowly shrinking, disappearing into so much nothing.

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